January 5, 2021 Melanie Windridge

Just keep walking

It’s a new year, a new beginning, but we are all still in the same grip of Covid-19, wondering how much longer we will have to endure it.

In mid-2020 my left retina detached from the back of my eye. I had eye surgery three times in six months to fix it (and I’m hoping that now it stays stuck). On the morning of my second surgery, the day after I had found out that the retina had come away again, I couldn’t help thinking about the ladders on Everest and how I had no choice but to do something that frightened me over and over again. I wrote this piece about how I was feeling as I waited for my father to come and pick me up to take me to the hospital.

I wanted to share this with you now as we all face our individual struggles in this global pandemic. Stay safe. Stay strong.

crossing a ladder over a crevasse on Everest

Climbers crossing a ladder over a crevasse in the lower Western Cwm on Mount Everest, between Camp 1 and Camp 2.

This is what life is like sometimes—cold, frightening, uncertain, daunting. But beautiful too.

If climbing has taught me anything, I think it is the strength of mind to push these things aside and just keep walking.

Of course, I’ve had mini freak-outs on mountains before when I’ve been out of my comfort zone, scared, exhausted. I’ve cried hanging onto rock faces, my chalky fingers clawing into the rock, or balanced precariously on crampon points in ice, gripping my ice axes and afraid to move. I’ve dropped to my knees ready to crawl when faced with a narrow, exposed, icy pathway with a drop-off of hundreds of metres, only to have to stand up again when I realised it’s safer to walk across it in crampons than crawl on my slippery knees.

Often in these situations, the only way out is forward. Sometimes retreat is a possibility, but that means giving up on your goal and letting down your climbing partner. Ultimately, you have to compose yourself and make the move. Once you’re through it everything settles down again. You find it wasn’t that bad.

After a while, you become so used to facing these extremes that you barely freak out anymore. You just keep walking. You recognise that you have no choice.

When I was on Everest, those ladders in the photo were one of the worst things we had to face. And it’s a mental issue. Put a ladder down on the grass outside and walk across it, balancing on the rungs. It’s easy, right? Even with spiky crampons on it’s not too challenging. Put that ladder, bowing, over an icy, deep crevasse and it’s a different story. It’s much more frightening. But these ladders are on the pathway to Everest; if you can’t deal with this then you’re going home. So you don’t even think about freaking out. You just clip into the ropes, steady yourself and start walking. It doesn’t matter that you don’t like it. You have no choice. And if you get through this you get access to one of the most incredible, beautiful places in the world.

Sometimes I think life is like this too. Things happen that frighten us, sadden us, exhaust us, push us down, but ultimately the only option we have is to compose ourselves and keep walking. I will remember how lucky I am that what I’m experiencing isn’t worse than this. I will remember that I am not alone. I will remember that growth comes from challenge and loss. I will remember to look around and take what I can from the experience. I’m not saying I won’t freak out at all. I know I will. But I also know that I will just keep walking as long as I can.

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About the Author

Melanie Windridge Dr Melanie Windridge is a plasma physicist, speaker, writer… with a taste for adventure. She has a PhD in fusion energy, is Communications Consultant for fusion start-up Tokamak Energy, and has worked in education with the Ogden Trust, Anturus and the Your Life campaign. Melanie is an expert in the aurora and loves the mountains. She believes science and exploration go hand in hand. In 2018 she climbed Mount Everest.